Sales and Sales Management Blog

July 13, 2009

Boost Your Sales: “Titles That Tease,” by Anne Miller

Welcome to a new week of great advice and new strategies to help you sell more.  This we we tackle the difficult subject of delivering effective sales presentations.  Getting and maintaining your prospect’s attention—and moving them toward making the buying decision is difficult.  It takes skill.  Our guest experts this week will give you great strategies to help you make your presentations hit the mark.

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By Anne Miller

Imagine you are the buyer at Lexus. You see sales presentations every day—every business out there wants to nail a contract with a firm as esteemed as Lexus. As you settle into your seat for yet another Powerpoint slideshow by another hopeful vendor, a title flashes on the conference room screen that actually makes you eager to see what follows. Is it:

  • “Proposal for Lexus by Innovative Plastics”

         “Increasing Lexus’s Market Share”                 

  • “Revving Up Sales at Lexus

“Proposal for Lexus” is of course accurate, but it doesn’t engage.  Its promise to the listener is, this is going to be a by-the-book presentation (i.e., terminally boring).  “Increasing Sales for Lexus” is stronger. It promises a bottom-line benefit, and that’s something to perk up the ears of any manager. The third title, however, adds visual, emotional energy–simply by using a verb that speaks to us metaphorically. “Revving” sparks a chain reaction of associations: We see a souped-up car, we hear the throaty roar of its powerful engine, we perhaps experience a surge of adrenalin. Suddenly sales figures take on a sound, an energy, an excitement. We can feel and hear them revving up. Buckle up, listeners! says this title. You’re in for an exciting ride!

Tap Industry Associations

 I see so many presentations that begin with ho-hum dull titles.  They put the presenter behind the eight ball from the start.  “Today a new name has to work overtime to slice through the clutter,” observes Steve Rifkin, the naming expert. “A new name has to hit the trifecta–it has to be distinct, memorable and meaningful.  A lazy name is the kiss of death for a marketer.” That sentiment applies equally to your presentation titles.

For instance, say you’re presenting to the marketing executives at Marriott Hotels. You want to sell them on the benefits of a database marketing service. There’s not a lot of imagery in those words—database sounds duller than binary code, and marketing is what everybody is selling. However, you know your audience’s industry:  Marriott is in the hospitality business. What can you do with that? Think about their industry jargon.  Think about what the business is about: home away from home, a cozy bed for the night. Think of your own hotel experiences. What do you picture? A kingsize bed? Fluffy pillows? Crisp sheets? Getting a good night’s rest?  Now think about what you’re trying to sell to this group of executives. You have a way to boost their occupancy rates. It’s a database you’re selling, but it translates into…more heads in their beds. Right! So instead of your first slide saying, “Sales Proposal for Marriott,” or even “Increasing Sales for Marriott,” go with your image:

More Heads in Beds: Plumping Up Sales at Marriott Hotels.

Take a Lesson from Book Publishers

Effective presentation titles are like bestselling book titles: They both grab and inform your audience at a glance. How? By using metaphor as a kind of shorthand. Metaphoric language packs a lot of punch. Every image-laden word or energetic verb or colorful phrase unleashes a torrent of associations in the mind of your audience. The more impatient your audience—the buyer at Lexus, for instance, who hears a dozen pitches a week, or the executive scanning the shelves at Barnes & Noble before dashing off to a train—the more imperative it is to use metaphoric language. You may have only three or four words to hook him before he tunes you out or moves on.

Publishers of business books certainly grasp the importance of metaphor when it comes to titling some treatise on management practices. As The New York Times  pointed out in “Recipe for a Best Seller: Analogies about Cheese or Anthills or Parenting,”  the most successful book titles rely on very un-businesslike comparisons—to sports, war, Shakespeare, Antarctic exploration, even peanut butter and jelly. To name but a few:

Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?  Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround.  Louis V Gerstner, Jr.

Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. Spencer Johnson.

 -Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption are Undermining America. Arianna Huffington.

In each instance what empowers the title is an image, one freighted with appropriate connotations. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the image of an elephant twirling on its toe says it all about IBM’s turnaround. The image of pig instantly communicates greed and dirt. With images this strong, the subtitle doesn’t have to explain very much.

 “Future Trends” could be a good book, but “Future Shock” will get buyer’s attention every time.


The opportunity to engage your audience begins with your title. It’s your promise of what is to come. Metaphoric titles are the most effective at both engaging and informing your audience because metaphoric language is packed with associations—whole images and experiences your audience can draw on in an instant.

c. 2009 Anne Miller. Permission to reprint granted with attribution to Anne Miller, sales and presentation strategist


To get more tips like these from Anne Miller, sales and presentations strategist and author of “Metaphorically Selling,” sign up for her free newsletters at



  1. I love Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson. Very much.

    Comment by Student Mike — July 13, 2009 @ 10:01 am | Reply

  2. […] Here is t­he orig­in­al: Boos­t Your S­a­les­: “Ti­tles­ Tha­t Tea­s­e,” by … […]

    Pingback by Boost Your Sales: “Titles That Tease,” by Anne Miller « Sales Management — July 16, 2009 @ 10:43 pm | Reply

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